There are few days that go by where I don’t find myself worrying about the environmental impact of the lives that we lead. That may sound dramatic, but look around you. Look at the items under your sink, in your medicine cabinet, or in your cupboard. Chances are, most of the items you’ll find are housed in some sort of plastic container. Think about the bottles of over-the-counter medications, laundry detergent, shampoo, milk containers, the thin plastic bags that you brought your broccoli home in, kid’s toys, and on and on. The amount of plastic in our individual lives is huge. Now think about our collective lives. All day long, we are provided with plastic that we use and throw away or which houses something else we need. When it is empty, we toss it. We may try to recycle some of it, but most plastic isn’t designed to be re-used—which is unfortunate because it lasts almost forever.
I don’t know if it is too late for the world to turn around. When I was a kid, I remember the big push to get people not to litter. The slogan was “Please, please–don’t be a litter bug cause every litter bit hurts.” Remember? It took awhile but people did eventually grasp that message and it is a rare thing to see someone just throw their trash on the ground and walk away. Is it too late to change the way we consume products? It’s hard to say.
Many people now bring their own reusable cloth or recycled grocery bags with them to the store. That’s a good thing and something that many European countries have made the norm for many years. When I was in Paris a few years ago, I was surprised to find that products, such as yogurt, came in glass containers. Remember when our products were in glass? Mayonnaise, milk, spices, orange juice–even soda. Now more and more items are made in single-serving size plastic containers. Convenience is big for Americans and single servings make life easier. At least it seems to.
I am not suggesting anything revolutionary, but perhaps we can all try just a little harder to pay attention to packaging and make that a part of our consumer purchasing behavior. Plastic contains petroleum. If an item comes in a glass bottle, rather than plastic, buy the glass and recycle it. Unless you will waste the food, buying a bigger size and dividing it into single serving portions may be environmentally friendlier and less expensive.
And if you recycle, make sure you are doing it correctly. Many items that would seem to be recyclable are not, if they are contaminated with food, such as a cardboard pizza box. The waxed plastic cardboard of milk cartons is not recyclable. To recycle properly, you usually have to take the extra step of rinsing, or even washing out, the container. If you don’t, the recycling company ends up throwing it away and it ends up in the garbage with the other non-recyclables.
Personally, I think that the time is coming when we are will be forced to adopt energy-saving practices, all across our lives. Until then, I hope we can all learn to be more aware of the life-span of each item we bring into our lives and make better choices. Do what you can, because everything we do in this regard matters far more than we know.